Saturday, April 28, 2012

JBA Post #10: Dark Life, Kat Falls

This book was AMAZING! I started it three or four times but couldn't get past the first couple pages - I thought it was kind of boring and didn't really make sense. But one day I sat down and forced myself to read it, and I got hooked!

Dark Life takes the dystopian genre to a whole new place. In the novel, the oceans have risen (they call it "The Rising") leaving minimal livable space on land. People live in tiny, cramped apartments, have to get on waiting lists for housing, and have no space for anything. So, a group of "pioneers" tests out living underwater, deep in the ocean, in a place they've named Benthic Territory.

In addition to the dystopian themes, the novel almost takes you back in history to the Wild Wild West. There are "pioneers" and "outlaws" and the people live on underwater "homesteads." All in all, it was a really interesting concept.

Anyway, the main character, Ty, meets a girl named Gemma who lives above the sea - those people are called "Topsiders". Gemma's brother has lived undersea for a while, and she is trying to find him. She enlists Ty's help. Meanwhile, Ty and his family/neighbors are fighting off the invasion of a group of outlaws called the Seablite Gang. Ty and Gemma soon discover that her brother is NOT who she thought he was, and Ty has to use his "Dark Gift" - an almost magical byproduct of living under the sea for so long - to help both Gemma and his family.

I really loved all that the book had to offer - a mix of dystopian themes, elements of fantasy (the "Dark Gifts"), history, mystery, and suspense. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for something different, especially boys. It's also a series; I can't wait to read the next one, Rip Tide.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

JBA Post #9: Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine

Caitlin is an eleven year old girl with Aspberger's syndrome. She struggles in school, and her only friend is her older brother, Devon. But Devon is killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin must learn to navigate the world - and school - on her own.

Caitlin's dad is completely devastated after the shooting and provides little help to her. Her mom died years earlier from cancer, so her source of aid is the school counselor, Mrs. Brook. Through her, Caitlin learns about empathy, friendship, and gaining closure.

I liked the strong message of this novel and thought that Kathryn Erskine did a terrific job of showing exactly what the mind of someone with Aspberger's looks like.  I also loved the allusion to How to Kill a Mockingbird (you'll have to read the book to figure out how they're connected!). However, I didn't really enjoy the novel that much. It didn't hold my attention - I often caught my mind wandering as I read.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

JBA Post #8: Is It Night or Day?, Fern Schumer Chapman

Is It Night or Day? follows Edith (Tiddy) Westerfeld as she journeys to America during World War II. Tiddy's family is from a small town in Germany, and they are the only Jews left in town. Tiddy's father desperately wants to leave, but he refuses to go without his mother and she is determined to stay in Germany.
So, the father sends his two daughters - Tiddy and Betty - to America by themselves, on a huge ship. At first the journey seems almost like a grand adventure, but when they arrive in America, things get harder. Betty goes and lives with a foster family, while Tiddy lives with her aunt and uncle in Chicago. Tiddy becomes almost Cinderella-esque in her Aunt Mildred's house: she cleans, carries groceries home, and is even sent out when they have parties.

I really liked this book because it showed how terribly Jews were treated even in America during WWII. I think that's something that most people don't know about. For instance, once fighting got intense between America and Germany, Tiddy got a letter in the mail that she was considered an "enemy alien" by the U.S. Department of Immigration, and had to register as such and carry her papers around with her at all times. There were also kids at school that were mean to her.

The book talks a lot about identity - Tiddy's struggle to assimilate and find her identity in Chicago, as well as her aunt's struggle to appear wealthy even though she's not.

The book was interesting but relatively dry and sometimes a little slow.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

I took a break from JBA books for a few days to read Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, and I'm glad I did!

WonderWonder is about a boy, August Pullman, who was born with an extreme physical deformity. His face is very deformed - so much so that he's been homeschooled his whole life. However, as he begins fifth grade (middle school), his parents decide that it's time for him to go to a real school.

As he begins school, Auggie struggles with the stereotypical "mean kids" of middle school, and has to figure out who's REALLY his friend and who's been TOLD to be his friend. There was also a mother who was sort of out to get Auggie - his classmate Julian's mom. It's sad to think that even adults can be that cold-hearted.

The book ends well, thankfully, but there were parts that made me almost cry! It's so sad that people can be so mean to one another, and even though this was "just a book," I know that people are actually that mean in real life.

Even though this book is kind of lengthy, the chapters are all really short, which made it move quickly. Overall, it was a great read and I'd recommend it to everyone.

Friday, April 20, 2012

JBA Post #7: Hero, Mike Lupica

I know Mike Lupica is a relatively popular author, but this is the first book of his that I've ever read. I thought most of his novels were about sports, but this one was not.

Hero is about a boy named Zach Harriman. He lives in New York with his mom and his dad, even though his dad is often out of town on confidential missions for the government. Zach doesn't know much about what his dad does, but he considers him a sort of hero. But, his dad dies in a plane crash in the beginning of the novel, leaving Zach with a lot of questions about his life. Zach feels like his dad's death wasn't an accident and he vows to figure out what actually happened.

This quest leads Zach to Montauk, on the outer edges of Long Island, and introduces him to Mr. Herbert, a mysterious old man that enlightens him to the fact that his dad was not only a hero in the sense that he saved people's lives, but also in the sense that he had magic powers - like a superhero. These powers have been passed on to Zach!

As Zach struggles to figure out what this realization means for his future, he learns more and more about his dad - his dad was going to run for Vice President - and meets plenty of villains. Will Zach be able to save the world and avenge his father's death?

The novel was hard to put down in the beginning; I was so curious about what happened to Zach's father, but then it kind of felt like it all felt together too quickly. I wasn't really satisfied with the ending or with what Zach learned about his father's actual death. Overall, it was a good book, I was just a little disappointed in the ending.

Monday, April 16, 2012

JBA Post #6: Warriors in the Crossfire, Nancy Bo Flood

I finished Warriors in the Crossfire, by Nancy Bo Flood, this weekend and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It reminded me of another book I've read, The Bomb, by Theodore Taylor.

Warriors in the Crossfire is about two boys - cousins Joseph and Kento - that live on an island called Saipan during World War II. Joseph is a native, the son of the island's chief. Kento, though, is Japanese. When the Japanese invade the island and begin imposing curfews, restrictions, and even close down the local school, the boys know that fighting will soon begin. Can their familial ties keep them close even though they are on opposite sides? Or will one betray the other?

Warriors in the CrossfireAs predicted, fighting begins and Joseph's father (the chief) must leave, leaving Joseph to care for his family. There's a lot of action and drama as the conflict unravels - there's even a scene on the "suicide cliffs", where natives jumped to their death in order to spare themselves from the fighting.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII, in foreign cultures, and most boys.

Monday, April 9, 2012

JBA Post #5: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, Erin Dionne

I LOVED this book! It's about a girl whose parents are much so that they named their two daughters Hamlet and Desdemona, characters from some of Shakespeare's works.

The main character is Hamlet, and nothing about her family is normal. Her parents are both Shakespeare professors at a local college, and live life completely based on their passion for Shakespeare. They dress as Shakespeare would have, only eat foods typical of the time, and speak as Shakespeare would have - they don't even let their kids use contractions! On top of that, Hamlet's little sister, Desdemona, is a genius. She's only seven years old but takes college courses and even tutors middle school kids in math.

At the beginning of Hamlet's eighth grade year, Desdemona starts attending the same school as her and is even in some of the same classes. Hamlet has a lot of trouble with this. This trouble is compounded when her class begins a Shakespeare study and Hamlet finds out that her freak-show parents will be coming in to help her teachers.

This book really has it all...familial angst, typical middle school "mean girls", humor, allusions to Shakespeare's works, and a happy ending! I'd recommend it to any girls looking for a pretty quick, entertaining read. Don't fight the urge to read some Shakespeare when you're finished!

JBA Post #4: Crunch, Leslie Connor

When you hear the word "crunch", you probably think of different things. I personally think of chips. But, this novel by Leslie Connor is about a different kind of crunch - a gas crunch.
The novel is about the Mariss family - a family with five kids - and their experiences during a "crunch" when the country runs out of gas. Mr. Mariss is a truck driver, and he and Mrs. Mariss get stranded away from home when the nation's supply runs out, leaving their five kids to fend for themselves and run the family's bicycle repair shop. As you can imagine, bike's become a lot popular during a gas outage, so the kids have their work cut out for them. 

Dewey Mariss, one of the boys, is the head of the bike shop during his parents' absence, and soon notices that as he and his brother struggle to keep the shop afloat, parts begin to go missing. Dewey tries to figure out who the culprit is without letting his older, bossy sister catch wind of the trouble. He's determined to prove that he can run things on his own, with no help from others. 

I thought this book presented a really interesting scenario. I never think about what would happen if the United States ran out of gas, but Leslie Connor did a great job of presenting what could happen in that situation. It really made me think a lot about that type of situation, and how people would react. In the book, there was a lot of theft and violence as people tried to secure gasoline - I imagine that is pretty much how it would be in real life. 

The only thing I didn't like about the novel was that the Mariss kids were all to perfect. They had little arguments and fights, but for the most part they got along great without any trouble while their parents were gone. I don't think any family - especially one with five kids - is really that perfect! Also, I wish the book had a different cover. I was not looking forward to reading it after looking at the cover art, but I was pleasantly surprised once I began. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

JBA Post #3: Sources of Light, Margaret McMullan

I was surprised by this book - to be totally honest, I did not read the synopsis before I started it, and I'm not sure what I thought it was about...but I did NOT expect it to be about the Civil Rights Movement in Jackson, Mississippi!

Despite surprising me with its subject matter, I really enjoyed this novel. It's about a girl, Samantha, who moves to Jackson, MS with her mother right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. Sam's mother works as an art history professor at a local college and soon starts giving lectures at another local, all black college. This spells trouble for Sam and her mother - Sam has trouble fitting in at school and has difficulty rationalizing what is going on around her and her mother's involvement in it. 

Her mother's friend, Perry, gives her a camera (hence the title) and she begins to document what goes on around her through photos. She captures things that need to be seen and even finds some of her photos published in a national newspaper. 

The novel has a good bit of action - fights, fires, voter registration riots, and even a murder - which really keeps the pages turning. I'd recommend this book mainly to girls (there are some kissing scenes and a young romance) who are interested in historical fiction.